George Zimmerman, the defendant in the Trayvon Martin murder case, was widely expected to claim immunity under Florida's 'stand your ground' law. The defense's calculations have changed.
The Trayvon Martin case may have brought renewed focus on new "stand your ground" self-defense laws around the country, but the defendant in the case, George Zimmerman, said Tuesday he may not use the law in his own defense after all.
In a move that bewildered prosecutors, defense attorney Mark O'Mara cancelled an April 20 "stand your ground hearing," claiming a time crunch in preparing for a June 10 jury trial in the second-degree murder case. If able to provide clear and convincing evidence of legally standing one's ground against an attack, a defendant in Florida walks free and is granted immunity from civil liabilities.
Police released Mr. Zimmerman without charges after the volunteer neighborhood watchman shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin just over a year ago. Sanford, Fla., police cited Florida's landmark 2005 “stand your ground law,” which nullifies any imperative for a potential crime victim to try to escape or retreat before using deadly force against an attacker.
Zimmerman says he thought Trayvon looked suspicious, and that the two fought after he approached the boy. Zimmerman says he didn't know Trayvon was a child.
According to Zimmerman, Trayvon knocked him to the ground, straddled him, knocked his head against the pavement, and punched him wildly to a point where Zimmerman feared for his life. Then Zimmerman pulled out a pistol and shot Trayvon square in the chest, killing him.
Forty days later, after nationwide protests, a special prosecutor arrested and charged Zimmerman with second-degree murder, saying he illegally confronted an unarmed child for no reason, provoked a confrontation, then killed the boy without cause.
The case gained nationwide notoriety because of suspicions of institutional police biases against blacks, especially young black men. It also became a waypoint in a national debate about an ascendant US gun culture that has led to the loosening of gun laws and to the expansion of "no duty to retreat" self-defense laws that apply both to conduct in the home as well as in public areas like sidewalks and parks.